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Music

Music Review: 'The Traveller,' Baaba Maal

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FULANI ROCK")

BAABA MAAL: (Singing in foreign language).

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This is Baaba Maal. He is a huge star his home country, Senegal. He's been making music for more than three decades and has just released his first album in seven years. It's called "The Traveller." Music reviewer Banning Eyre says it has something for both longtime fans and people who are just discovering this Senegalese singer.

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: When Baaba Maal releases an album, you never know quite what to expect. His work ranges from gentle acoustic folk songs to dense dance mixes and everything in between. But there is a constant - one of the most searing, powerful voices in all of African music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FULANI ROCK")

MAAL: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: The track is "Fulani Rock," and it features the grinding electric guitars of rock bands from the North African Sahara. Maal comes from the Fulani people in the north of Senegal, but this roar of desert guitars is a new sound for him. Also new is this Auto-Tune passage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FULANI ROCK")

MAAL: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: All this makes for a bracing kickoff, but "The Traveller" quickly moves on to more subdued reflective places, like "Kalaajo," which celebrates Maal's Fulani roots.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KALAAJO")

MAAL: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Here, the sound hews close to his acoustic material of the past, but all that hovering ambient electronica comes from Swedish producer Johan Hugo Karlberg of the band The Very Best. Together, Maal and Hugo composed one of the most beautiful songs in this set, "Lampenda," an ode to fishermen. Listen to all the colors in Maal's voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAMPENDA")

MAAL: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Maal's ability to mold traditional sounds into catchy pop songs has long been a hallmark. He's brave, willing to take fans outside their comfort zone. Maal ends this album with the poetry of British author and playwright Lemn Sissay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEACE")

LEMN SISSAY: It holds the fear of the awakening, of its shivering shores breaking, like those in the Middle East did...

EYRE: Addressing big questions of war and peace in the Sahara and the world. It's an odd choice, but Baaba Maal is every bit the traveler, a confident world warrior and willing collaborator. At a time when many of his collaborators stick to proven formulas, it's good to see this kind of openness. And it's great to have this singular voice back in the global mix.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRAVELLER")

MAAL: (Singing in foreign language).

MCEVERS: Banning Eyre is senior producer at afropop.org. He reviewed the album "The Traveller" by Baaba Maal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRAVELLER")

MAAL: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.